Founders Day Tree Planting
The tradition of the senior class planting a tree in memory of Milton Hershey began as a tribute to George Copenhaver, the first superintendent of Milton Hershey School. The first tree was planted on the grounds of the Junior-Senior High School (now Catherine Hall) in memory of Mr. Copenhaver on Nov. 15, 1938—80 years ago. Mr. Copenhaver died in February of that year, and the older students decided that planting a tree by the senior class would be an appropriate way to honor their teacher and mentor.
The pin oak was chosen because of its symbolism—its size and sturdiness represent strength, its acorns symbolize the ability to touch the future, and its roots signify the deep source of its vigor.
The date of Nov. 15 was chosen because of its significance to the school and to Mr. Copenhaver. Milton and Catherine Hershey signed the Deed of Trust establishing Milton Hershey School on Nov. 15, 1909, and Milton Hershey himself personally selected the same date 25 years later in 1934 for the dedication of his new Junior-Senior High School. This occasion gave George Copenhaver the idea of observing each Nov. 15 as Founders Day.
The first oak tree planted in honor of Milton Hershey occurred on Nov. 15, 1946, the year after Mr. Hershey died. The first class to present and plant their own tree was the Class of 1957 on Nov. 15, 1956. The tradition continued at Old Senior Hall until the opening of Founders Hall on Sept. 13, 1970 and at Founders Hall until the opening of Memorial Hall on Nov. 15, 1995. That year, the honor of planting an oak tree was transferred from the senior class to the kindergarteners at Memorial Hall—the thought being that these children could watch their tree grow during their years at MHS. In 2003, the senior class began planting their own tree at Founders Hall once again.
Today, the commemoration of the signing of the Deed of Trust by Milton and Catherine Hershey is a week-long celebration. Students in pre-kindergarten will plant a tree at Memorial Hall and the senior class will plant their tree, marked with a plaque, at Founders Hall.
Mr. Hershey is quoted as saying, “There is not a person alive who should not plant a tree–not for the shade that you’ll enjoy, but for those who are coming after.” This sentiment is brought to life each year during Founders Week with the planting of oak trees by members of the Milton Hershey School family.
From the Vault Blog Series
The Milton Hershey School archives are full of fascinating pieces of school history—from memorials that honor the people who shaped MHS to musical instruments from 1915 that helped bring the school’s Visual and Performing Arts program to life. Follow along with our historical “From the Vault” series to view interesting artifacts and gifts that make up Milton Hershey School history.